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Archive for January, 2010

January 29, 2010

Quebec Meeting

I just returned to Toronto from Quebec City where I was holed up in a hotel with our regional reps for three days of ‘spit-balling’ about snowmobiles. We had a chance to get out on the trails with the new sled(z) but unfortunately a freak rain storm dampened the fun. There was one section of trail that got completely wiped out by a flash flood which left huge chunks of ice strewn about the forest. I didn’t get a chance to see it but Jon did and had an image on his i-phone that made me cringe.

Got word today that an old friend Max Aoshima has chosen to retire. What is notable about Max’s announcement, he is, to the best of my knowledge the only engineer left who started working with snowmobile in the 60’s development period which resulted in the SL350 and he has been with snowmobile ever since. His knowledge and sled history is brilliant! Max-san please enjoy your retirement and if you make it to Canada we must go for another ride 😉

Well we’ll hoist the blue dress high soon enough but if you’d like a little peek at what’s under the hood, here’s a little Sled Talk bonus. I am heading out on the road to meet and ride with our Ontario dealers Monday but will post again around this time next week. I have really enjoyed all the comments that have come in on Sled Talk and TY and it will be interesting to see what happens next week. I was asked to do a little video blog on the new sled which will no doubt be popping up pretty soon, sure to get me in some more trouble 😉

I need to ask a small favor. It’s report card time for Sled Talk and I have made a brief survey that I am asking everyone who reads Sled Talk to take the three minutes required to complete. All you need to do is click on this Sled Talk Survey link.

Thanks in advance!  cheers  cr

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Posted @ 4:29 pm in Travel and Events,Yamaha People and Communication   

January 22, 2010

Viral launch of the 2011 Apex

IMPORTANT: SLED TALK SURVEY, please click here

It has been ten days since I took a group of great guys for a ride on the new ‘mystery sled’ which by the way is not so much of a mystery any more ;-). I have spent a ton of time on the forums reading what the men who actually rode it had to say and all the comments and conjecture from the folks who haven’t. I notice something on Sled Talk that I see on the forums as well. Each post is read by approximately 100x the number of people than actually write a comment. It really makes me wonder what the silent majority thinks of it all and more importantly how powerful is all the word of mouth being generated outside of the internet?

Sledfreak made a good comment here last week comparing magazine articles to social media  “I find way more valuable information on the internet forums.  There is also a lot of misguided information, but you have to read through the dirt to get to the good stuff.” I have observed the well moderated forums like Totallyamaha and Dootalk (hats off to the owners and mods) maturing over the last few seasons . There is a lot less ‘bashing’ than in the old days. That said, there is such a wide range of users participating that there will always be a contrary view point (or 10).

I am preparing to address our field staff at a meeting next week in Quebec and plan to hit some topics using examples I have learned right here on Sled Talk and over on TY. Some of you might remember a survey I posted on-line for Apex owners a couple of years ago. Several questions referred to your satisfaction levels of various components and functions. I was able to filter different model year data (06 to 07 to 08) and found some significant trends all relative to the ongoing changes that were made in production to each model year. The mono rear suspension is a good example with far fewer issues (much higher satisfaction) in 08 than 06. The point is; when I read comments on the forums comparing an 06 with what is perceived as the same thing coming in 2011, suggesting it is not changed enough to be worthy of a trade up, I have to shake my head.

There is another whole cross section of guys who are looking for the next generation of 4-stroke off-trail machines, basically a revamped Nytro on steroids. Clearly the ‘mystery sled’ is not a mountain machine or a snow crossing boon-docker. No – its a dedicated trail sled and clearly, a disappointment for those that are looking for something else. I have been checking out the avatar, location or signature after reading a negative rant on the OMG often to discover the author is riding a Nytro or competitors equivalent machine. It’s good to vent and its helpful for us to see where your interests lay, just remember that we all have different needs and expectations regarding our sleds. Interesting fact: over 60% of the machines sold up here are used on the trail.

Anyway the coolest thing about all of this is that you can participate in the forums if you choose. When someone who has experience with a machine posts, you can challenge him or ask a question. You won’t find that little feature on any of the corporate web-sites (with the exception of Sled Talk 😉 ). You will also find plenty of ‘dirt’, the negative and sometimes off-colour comments, but give it some time and the ‘self policing’ attribute of the on-line community will generally put things in proper perspective, either confirming or denouncing the source and their agenda.

Many of the 2011 model comments have addressed the issue of lightweight and EPS (power steering) often in the same reference. Did I just confirm that Yamaha will be the first manufacturer to offer EPS on a snowmobile? Of course I didn’t. But if we did… could EPS possibly offer the same benefits of having light weight? Could it offer some new benefits, even greater than light weight alone? What is the real benefit of having light weight in a trail machine when you are seldom if ever stuck or faced with carving a turn in deep powder? Is it possible that there are still some features yet unknown and the sum total of all could far outweigh the spec sheet? Naw it’s just warmed-up left-overs, right?

I can find just about every possible answer to the above, the good the bad and the ugly. What I’m really liking is what the guys that have actually rode the sleds have to say (okay at least 90%). That’s why we released it ahead of the official date. Real riders, their own words speaking on neutral ground. Sure we could post rider testimony on our own web-site but who would believe it? I sure wouldn’t! After-all we would edit, dip it in sugar and whitewash it with cream-cheese before showing anyone, its what most big companies doo right? These days even the magazines editorial credibility is suspect (I refer back the SledFreaks comment).

You might hate the lack of disclosure, you might enjoy the chatter and imaginative conjecture or you might appreciate the preview coming from real riders with no corporate censorship or financial influence. But no matter how you look at it, we have surly given you something to talk about!

Cheers  cr

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Posted @ 1:16 pm in Opinions and Insights,Yamaha People and Communication   

January 18, 2010

What is a Game Changer?

Well it has been really interesting watching the reactions to the comments and sightings of our newest snowmobile. For those who might not have stumbled upon it, we let a select group of customers and some media folks ride a 2011 sled last week without giving away any specifications or details on what the sled actually was. (All that will be released on February 2nd). The whole point was to have them ride the sled and comment on what they actually felt not what they assumed it should feel like which often happens once you are given all the mechanical specs and features.C ya

One reaction I had not anticipated (but in hind sight should have) is in direct reference to calling the sled a ‘game changer’. This term is kind of trendy of late and has been used by a lot of people to describe various products. I’d like to add my viewpoint on this little ‘figure of speech’ and how I think it should apply to motorsports.

I think the traditional ‘game’ of snowmobile product progression is ‘bigger / faster / better’. Ever since the return from the brink back in 1981, the OE’s have been adding horsepower in steady doses to keep sled heads falling off their wallets and it has worked pretty well. Of course the sleds have also gotten bigger and stronger in the process but that has been the name of the game. What struck me was how many people that have said if Yamaha was to build a game changer it would be by adding more horsepower and subtracting some weight. I don’t see how that will ‘change’ anything, it is the same game we have been playing for years.

From my point of view, a ‘game changer’ is based on a design or technology that first, has not been applied to the subject before (in mass production) and most importantly, adds enough value or impact so as to cause a shift within an entire industry. In other words a true game changer should be based on a new idea and cause everyone to react and follow suit in short order.

Yamaha has introduced a few game changers to snowmobiles over the years. The first that comes to mind is ‘Autolube’ oil injection. We were the first but within a couple of seasons all mainstream sleds adopted the technology. Another ‘game changer’ was our DCI or digitally controlled ignition, yep we were the first back around the Exciter 2 / Vmax4 days. This technology allowed the spark to be 3D mapped to help control the combustion over a wide rage of conditions which allowed larger displacement twins and assisted the move to electronic fuel injection, again everyone quickly adopted the technology. There have been many contributions from all the companies over the years: involute drive tracks, plastic skis, independent front suspension, slide rail skid frames, liquid cooled engines, ride forward ergonomics and 4-stroke performance mills just to name a few. Subtle improvements for the most part but very important to the evolution of the species.

But that’s the problem with ‘changing the game’. The product must first prove its worth and then the competition must either copy it or engineer the benefit somehow into their newest offerings. My friend Wade reminded us that we should not use the term ‘game changer’ in reference to our new sled because Polaris had done the same thing last year when describing the new Rush. But was it a game changer? I don’t know yet. The idea of removing the shock from inside the skid frame in order to control the function is a good one. We had that in the Snoscoot and Snosport years ago but no one followed the lead and the idea died (along with a couple of sleds that were far ahead of their time).
Will all the builders start engineering around the patents so to have external shock layouts? Maybe- and if we do then by gum Polaris will have game changer.
Right now it’s just another sled with a different skid frame layout.

Herein lies the rub. It takes time to determine if something is truly a game changer. Until that happens its nothing more than a marketing hook to capture your imagination. Will our newest 4-stroke trail sled prove to be a ‘game changer’?
Personally I really think it will. From the first time I rode it (over three years ago) to watching and listening as people got off it last week… It works so good that I don’t see how our competitors can afford not to react and follow our lead.
Quite honestly… I hope they don’t.  Cheers  cr

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Posted @ 12:42 pm in Opinions and Insights,Yamaha People and Communication   

January 8, 2010

Yamcharger Test

We were out on Lake Simcoe yesterday to do some photography and run a few tests on our sleds. My old friend Gordo was nice enough to let us use his property on the shores of Cookes Bay where we knew the ice was good and safe. I have been evaluating the little Yamcharger from G-Force which is a low boost supercharger  running directly off the crank that requires no engine modifications. I have been getting a lot of requests to post about my experience with it and what level of performance I’m  getting.

First off I have to remind you, that Yamaha does not endorse any modifications or accessories which have not been tested and approved by us. That said, we are always looking for new ideas and technologies which would explain why I am running a sled that would not be considered stock.

The conditions on the lake were not ideal as the limited snow pack was allowing significant track spin even at speed. This was the first time I was able to hold enough throttle to check RPM and discovered I need some more weight in the primary, The Yamcharged engine was running up towards 11,000rpm and if I wasn’t on the rev limiter I was darn close. The next step is to do some clutching which I believe will yield a bit more when I pull the numbers back down.

The comparison sled we used is a current Apex LTX (136in) and my sled is a 121. We ran from a rolling start and were still accelerating past the camera. The clip here is the best out of three runs, it really depended on which sled was hooking up but the Yamcharger clearly had an advantage given enough lake.

Does it make the extra 20 ponies, I sure think so. Just remember it takes a lot of horsepower to go just a little faster on the top when you factor in all the forces involved. So is it worth the bucks? Only you can decide, there is nothing wrong with the performance of a stock Apex but alas, I can hear Tim Allen grunting in the background.

Thinking about playing ‘hooky’ next Wednesday and going for a ride somewhere north of town, anybody want to hook up to try the Yamcharged Apex and do some trail riding?? Muskoka / Haliburtons. lemme know

cheers cr

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Posted @ 12:33 pm in Tech Talk   

January 4, 2010

Supertrax Ride 2010

Happy New Year! It was nice to have a few days off over the holidays and I hope you all had some of your own. I have been busy today getting caught up with the desk duties and spent a bit of time in the shop to install a couple of accessories on the Apex. I did have a chance to get out for a good run between Christmas and New Years with Mark and Kent Lester (Supertrax Intl Magazine). Mark had made a couple of inquiries (always nice to know the groomer guys) and we found some absolutely brilliant trails to ride.

The temperature had fallen to a very brisk, minus 18C following a couple of milder days with some rain and wet snow. The sun was shining and the light dust of fresh stuff on top of the glitter made for some stellar riding.

I am more impressed with the Yamcharger ever time I ride it. Huggy tagged along and the boys brought along the new Skidoo 4-stroke and a Polaris Rush for us to try. So we had an Apex, a doo and a Polaris but what was the fourth sled you ask? Well lets just say it’s new, it’s special and it’s a Yamaha of course.

We logged on about 230km and I had a good chance to try out all the sleds. I had forgotten how to ride a 2-stroke but once I remembered where the brake lever was and stopped sneezing, I got along quite well with the Rush. Mark had the skid set-up for our weight but really I wasn’t even thinking about the rear, it was more the balance and handling that caught my fancy but Polaris generally have that figured out.

The skidoo 4-stroke was interesting and I’m embarassed to say this is the first chance I have had to ride one. Part and parcel of being a desk jockey these days. It did a lot of things well but I had a hard time adjusting to the throttle response which felt like there was an elastic band attached to the throttle cable and the steering effort was a lot more than what I was used to. It felt quite heavy but handled flat however and the motor pulled hard. It was the warmest sled in the group and showcases their latest technology nicely but back on the Apex I felt much more at home.

For the record, I maintain that all the current snowmobiles are worthy of ownership and I would ride any one them on a regular basis. That said, I have developed a deep relationship with Yamaha products from years of exposure but I am not brand blind. All the new sleds have continued to evolve, they all have their own character, their strengths and their weakness.  The trick is in understanding what they are and how they apply to you but more on that later.

I know you guys are beyond this but I feel the need to urge everyone to use some extra caution during your first outings of the season. Pay extra attention to whats going on around you and anticipate the other guys aren’t. I had some bad news about a real good friend of mine over the holidays and if it could happen to him it could happen to any one of us. Get well Damian.

cr

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Posted @ 4:29 pm in Yamaha People and Communication